Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade transgender-protections law faces 2nd political test

Members of SAVE, an LGBT-rights group, wave their hands in support during a preliminary September vote by the Miami-Dade County Commission to extend legal protections to transgender people.
Members of SAVE, an LGBT-rights group, wave their hands in support during a preliminary September vote by the Miami-Dade County Commission to extend legal protections to transgender people. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

A push to extend legal protections to transgender people, which has already received preliminary approval from the Miami-Dade County Commission, faces its second political test Wednesday — this time, in the face of some public opposition.

Legislation to ban discrimination based on “gender identity” and “gender expression” is scheduled for a vote before the commission’s Public Safety & Animal Services Committee, which meets at 9:30 a.m. If approved, the law would then head to the full commission for a final vote.

Two of the four committee members, Audrey Edmonson and Bruno Barreiro, have sponsored the proposal, and a third, Sally Heyman, has signed on in support, so it’s expected to pass if they all show up. The fourth member is Esteban “Steve” Bovo, who has appeared iffy on supporting the law.

Commission seats are nonpartisan, but Edmonson and Heyman are Democrats. Barreiro and Bovo are Republicans.

Though the same proposal was withdrawn due to political resistance a year ago, commissioners favored the legislation 10-0 in an initial vote this past September that didn’t draw any critics to County Hall. Three board members were absent. A public hearing featured numerous backers organized by SAVE, the leading local LGBT-rights organization.

Since that vote, the Christian Family Coalition and People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality, or PULSE, have staged a couple of events against the law, which would amend the county’s existing human-rights ordinance. That law currently protects people from discrimination in employment, housing and public services on the base of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, marital status, familial status or sexual orientation.

The Christian Family Coalition, a conservative religious group, led the charge against adding “sexual orientation” to the law in 1998. PULSE, which formed in part to address African-American community concerns after the 1980 McDuffie riots, comprises some black clergy who have also opposed broadening the law to include LGBT people.

Expanding the law now is unnecessary, the Christian Family Coalition has argued, because no discrimination has been documented against transgender people locally. On Tuesday, PULSE tried to get transgender people to show up at County Hall — which was closed for Veterans’ Day — to sign sworn affidavits describing any discrimination they’ve experienced. None appeared to have shown up.

Last week, eight individuals — apparently acting on behalf of one of the opposing groups — sued Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa, trying to stop Wednesday’s hearing from taking place. The plaintiffs argued Sosa broke the law by assigning the legislation to a friendlier committee than the one that failed to support the proposal last year. County lawyers responded that commission rules give the chairperson the power to direct legislation through committees.

Circuit Judge Daryl Trawick sided with the county and threw out the case Wednesday morning.

A bill that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression across the state stalled at the Florida Legislature earlier this year. An alliance of businesses formed last year to support legislation dubbed The Competitive Workforce Act has hired a bipartisan team of political operatives to campaign for the legislation in 2015.

In the lead up to Wednesday’s Miami-Dade vote, Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce announced Tuesday that the Miami Heat basketball team and AmericanAirlines Arena have joined the coalition. The group now comprises 21 employers, including the Miami-based Bilzin Sumberg law firm; Orlando-based Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden; Florida Blue, the state’s largest health insurer; Walt Disney World Resort, Wells Fargo and Winn Dixie.

“Considering the AmericanAirlines Arena calls Miami home, The Heat Group’s workforce is as rich in diversity and talent as is the city itself,” Eric Woolworth, the Heat’s president of business operations, said in a statement. “And we believe we’re a stronger and better organization for it. Embracing diversity isn’t just the right thing to do; we consider it to be a sound business strategy.”

The Heat operates AmericanAirlines Arena on behalf of the county, which owns the property.

If you go

The Miami-Dade County Commission’s Public Safety & Animal Services Committee meets at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the 2nd floor chambers of the Stephen P. Clark Center, 111 NW 1st St., Miami.